Celebrities such as Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston, 46, attribute their slim figure to eating small portions regularly during the day, rather than larger meals at traditional times. She also said she survives on five meals a day.

The study, published in the science journal Nutrition Research, says that establishing a healthy and sustainable eating pattern is a challenge with which many dieters struggle.

The researchers compared two eating regimes over two weeks -- in the first participants ate two meals per day, while the second involved six meals a day.

In both regimes, the total calorie intake remained the same and the dieters lost weight but those in the six-meal group preserved a healthier body composition and lost less 'fat-free' body mass. Those who ate six meals a day had healthier levels of glucose, insulin and cholesterol.

The authors, from universities in California and New Mexico, said, "Increased meal frequency - such as six meals a day - did appear to favourably preserve fat-free mass during weight loss. In conclusion, calorific restriction was effective in reducing body mass and attenuating fat-free mass changes in body composition.”

 

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